Friday, 31 July 2015

The Salon Digest

As I head for a theatrical jaunt to London, do enjoy a look back at the week just passed!

Music Monday: François-Hippolyte Barthélémon
Some relaxing melodies to soothe!

1759 - The Wonderful Year
A year of victories from the pen of Antoine Vanner.

A Modern Girl’s Guide to Historical Living
Join Miranda Reading for a turn around the garden!

Tragedy Personified
Sarah Siddons plays Lady Macbeth.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Tragedy Personified: Sarah Siddons

The term "showbiz legend" is much bandied about these days when it comes to the world of entertainment, sometimes with less reason than others. Sarah Siddons, the first lady of the Georgian stage, was truly deserving of that lofty title. From humble beginnings she rose to the pinnacle of her craft, leaving her adoring fans gripped with Siddons fever as they flocked to her performances in droves. Famed as a tragedian, she will forever be associated with one particular role, that of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth.

Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by Henry George Harlow, 1814
Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by Henry George Harlow, 1814

When the celebrated Mrs Siddons played the lady of Dunsinane for the first time on 2nd February 1785, she was just 29 years old. With her tall, commanding figure and strikingly handsome looks Siddons made an instant and lasting impact; she would return to the role multiple times over the four decades that followed, making the part entirely her own. 

The majestic actress was known for the passion and fervour of her performances, bringing a deep understanding to each role as she practised the method of her day. Theatrical legend has it that, so intense was her portrayal and so blazing the look in her eyes, swooning ladies in the audience had to be carried from the theatre in order to recover their composure. The essayist, William Hazlitt, famously wrote that Siddons was "tragedy personified", a sentiment with which her fans certainly agreed. 

In fact, away from the stage her life contained tragedy enough to inspire a thousand such performances. Her marriage to William Siddons ended in separation and five of their seven children predeceased their mother. She channelled her unhappiness into performances of startling intensity, focusing particularly on the famous hand washing scene. Siddons broke with tradition by setting down Lady Macbeth's candle to instead concentrate on repeated, hypnotising motions as she washed the blood from her hands again and again.

Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

In her essay, Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth, Siddons shares her thoughts on the role and the reasoning behind her own stylistic choices. She displays a rich understanding of Lady Macbeth, whom she considers to be "made by ambition, but not by nature, a perfectly savage creature". The essay makes for fascinating reading, offering deep insight into this most remarkable actress and the way in which she approached her roles. 

Georgian theatre is occasionally depicted as an almost ridiculous place, with overblown performances and overheated thespians but in Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth we are privy to share what would appear to be a modern approach to the text, with Siddons examining dialogue, movement and psychology in her efforts to inhabit the role.

After a long and celebrated career, Sarah Siddons gave her farewell performance in the role that she had made her own at the Covent Garden Theatre on 29th June 1812. The reaction of the audience to the sleepwalking scene was so rapturous that they gave an ovation that seemed as though it might never end, forcing the curtain down. After a short delay in which the adoring applause continued, the curtains opened again to show Sarah sitting on stage in her own clothes, no longer in character. Once the crowds finally fell silent she gave a farewell speech of almost ten minutes in length, the actress as overcome with emotion as the audience who adored her.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A Modern Girl’s Guide to Historical Living

Miranda Reading is a constant delight on Twitter, where she share her fabulous tales as Basbleuette. I am so excited to welcome her to the salon today to share her Modern Girl's Guide to Historical Living!


Grace under Pressure: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Historical Living
By Miranda Reading, King’s College London (@basbleuette)

By day, I’m researching my D.Phil at King’s College London. By night, I have a secret life, which makes even the most hard-bitten academic bite through their pencil. Yes, dear reader, I’m a historical re-enactor. The traditional reaction from academic historians is often similar to that experienced when confessing to a secret fondness for naughtiness with sheep. ‘But it’s not realistic!’ they cry. ‘It’s all about dressing up and drinking ale and no one ever dies during battle re-enactment!’ Death in the pursuit of making history has a glorious lineage (just ask Richard II, General James Wolfe or Admiral Horatio Nelson) but modern health and safety, like the Geneva Convention, tends to frown on shooting the French. Thankfully, as a woman of the eighteenth century, my preoccupation tends to be with ballrooms not bullets and no one has, as yet, died from executing a particularly difficult minuet - although hoop-related injury was one of the reasons that led to their banishment from Bath Assembly Rooms for country-dances in the mid-eighteenth century. So, in the spirit of true confession, my name is Lydia and I’m the Duchess of Richmond.

Re-enactment is a very British tradition and you can (to coin a phrase) be whoever you want to be, an Elizabethan lady or maid at Kentwell Hall, a Cavalier or Roundhead with the Sealed Knot or a Corporal in the Home Guard at the Severn Valley Railway 1940’s weekend. We Brits, it seems, can’t get enough of spending our weekends as someone else and it’s a reflection of both an interest in and a desire to understand more about our past. Most re-enactors put a huge amount of work into ensuring historical accuracy in their dress, manner and actions. In the popular American Civil War re-enactment world, some Confederate soldiers march barefoot, forage off the land and starve themselves to attain a correct post-1863 style authentic leanness of look, earning themselves the soubriquet ‘hardcores’ for their dedication. The rest of us - I really can’t give up my hairdryer at a house party - are FARBS (noun) or Farbies, standing for ‘Far Be It From Authentic’ for not always going the whole hog. The world of re-enactment can occasionally go too far and as I said above, no one really wants to shoot the French. At least no more than a flesh wound.

My own forays into re-enactment came through my study of historic dance of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the minuet, contra-danse, cotillions and quadrilles. I wanted to be able to learn and perform the dances, as well as just reading about them. I quickly discovered that my skills could be practised at so-called ‘Playford’ balls (after The English Dancing Master by John Playford, one of the first commercially-produced dance manuals in 1651). So, with my somewhat reluctant husband in tow, off to Bath I went to dance at the Bath Minuet Society Georgian Ball and I’ve been an enthusiast ever since. Such was my desire to really try to experience the past that I branched off into doing my own events. I attend two or three public re-enactments each year and also organise two private balls and an annual four-day Regency House party, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Immersing yourself in this manner is not just a way to add some interest to your weekend if adultery and morris-dancing are unavailable. As a historian, re-enacting helps to connect you with the past via your research as you strive to make the event as authentic as you can manage. It encourages genuine scholarly research into matters such as patterns of speech, dance, social customs, etiquette, costume, food and other material preoccupations. There are many rich archival collections covering the eighteenth and nineteenth century and from the letters scribbled so long ago a wealth of detail about the day-to-day business of public sociability can be ascertained, transported into a modern day re-enactment and experienced first-hand. 

For a 21st century female, just putting on an eighteenth or nineteenth century dress changes the way you move. You soon realise that you can’t stride out like a modern liberated woman in her trousers, sit with your legs crossed or apart, eat much whilst wearing stays or easily pass through a doorway without banging your hair or your hoops. This physical restriction can make you appreciate how confining many of the fashions of the past were. Gentlemen didn’t have it much easier – my husband has often complained about how hot it is to wear three layers of clothing to dance in the height of summer or when he has to dance in the heeled shoes and heavy periwigs of the eighteenth century. Your research will suddenly come to life both materially and physically, as you clothe yourself correctly and use the speech, physicality, movement and manners of the part you are playing.

In 2015, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo has been a focal point for re-enactment. I hosted a ‘Duchess of Richmond’s Ball’ in June and I wasn’t the only would-be Duchess filling a ballroom during those weeks with many events held nationwide. The ball was many months in the planning, even for a relatively small group of thirty of us. The easiest past was a venue and we chose to have an outdoor ball in my own suburban garden with a marquee on stand-by in case of rain. Those who criticise the cost of such events or who are dazzled by the aristocratic excesses of the eighteenth century can often forget that public sociability does not have to be on a grand scale or take place in a stately home. Gathering together as friends in an inn or a private house was the motor that drove the growth of subscription Assembly Rooms from the early eighteenth century. This is demonstrated as the event begins and the guests arrive as their historic persona. I perform introductions in the correct manner and guests chatter about historic matters of the particular day and mind their manners, adopting the formal politeness which the eighteenth century elevated to an art.

Participation and imagination is key to a good re-enactment event in both demeanour and appearance. My guests dress as authentically as they can. Unlike some in the dance fraternity, I won’t criticise if someone uses a fabric or colour out of period. Not everyone has the budget or the time to make things perfectly authentic and it’s important to remember that re-enactment is supposed to encourage people to study history, not scare them off by criticizing their trimmings or hats! Many of the guests make their own outfits and, for those with the ability to sew, there are a variety of period patterns and online resources such as Colonial Williamsburg to offer help and advice. If you can’t sew, there are many period seamstresses, such as Marion May or Mrs Papendick. Such costumiers have become more numerous over recent years as interest in historic dance and re-enactment has increased.

Turning to the programme of dances, researching historical paper dance notations is one of the more interesting tasks. I research dances from notations at archives such as the British Library or Cecil Sharp House in London and also note their music or match them with well-known music from the period the particular ball is set in. Most dance historians recreating dances may tweak them slightly to fit in a step or a pattern or set them to different tunes much as a dancing master of the period would have done, adjusting to local tastes and capabilities.  Using these methods, historians such as Chris and Ellis Rogers have done much to make dance re-enactment more popular and accessible. Every ball needs music and you may be fortunate enough to engage a group of period musicians, such as the wonderful Green Ginger. There are also many recordings available, some of which will include notations. 

Historic dance does, of course, have to be learnt. My own method, as I’m dealing with a smallish group of people, who are reasonably experienced in the basic figures and patterns is to walk through the basic terminology and steps at the start of the ball and then to call the dances as they are performed, providing a reassuring vocal presence for the nervous or the new. Of course, nobody is perfect and like poor Mr Collins at the Netherfield Ball plenty of people go wrong, especially after imbibing some punch! However, this usually adds to the experience.

No ball is complete without supper! I’m fortunate to have the help of my chef, Oleg Knippov, who when not engaged in playing a fiery Russian exile is a lecturer at a British university. His interest is in historic cooking, researching, replicating or reviving recipes. His cheat is to use modern ovens and cooking equipment, although he would be perfectly capable of using a spit and an open fire. Our banquet consisted of spiced honey chicken, salmon-en-croute with hardboiled eggs, poached salmon, salamagundi, celeriac remoulade, chicken liver pate, cheeses, cold meats and a variety of desserts including syllabub, pineapple sorbet, Eton-mess ice cream, apple and honey cake, sherry trifle, mincemeat cake, shortbread and scones. After the ball, at around 10pm, we were treated to a white soup, beloved of all Regency hostesses, which is a light chicken and almond broth. We also produced period punches and cordials, such as a spiced blackcurrant cup and a strawberry punch. All of the dishes he produced came from recipes popular in 1815. So it was that after a fine time eating, dancing and socialising, flaming torches lit the shadows, before carriages – well, cars and trains – removed the guests back to modern life, until our next foray. 

As the recent Austenland film demonstrated, there is more and more interest in re-enacting the past and enjoying the romantic aspect of dandies and duchesses. Re-enactment can be legitimately criticised in that people often opt to play ‘nice’ characters, who don’t get dirty and wear pretty dresses and this can make us forget that for many people, the past was, as Hobbes famously described in Leviathan whilst musing  about the State of Nature, ‘nasty, brutish and short’. But for all this, I remain a firm defender of the pastime, which has improved my abilities as a scholar and hopefully enhanced my understanding of the periods of history that interest us. And let us not forget, it’s all jolly good fun – by far the best way to drink champagne is when it has been handed to you by a footman. Critics may sneer, but historical re-enactment of all kinds is here to stay, helped along by a dedicated band committed to bringing the past to life. I hope that every time I lace up my dancing shoes that in some small way, I contribute to this noble cause. As the American Declaration of Independence said in 1776 ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. What indeed, could make anyone happier, than the pursuit of the pleasures of our ancestors?

This post copyright © Miranda Reading, 2015.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

1759 – “The Wonderful Year”

It is an honour and a privilege to welcome Antoine Vanner to the salon today to discuss 1759, a most remarkable year. Antoine has been a friend to the blog from its earliest days and I am thrilled to share his wonderful work with you!


When I was twelve I found in our local library a leather-bound “Children’s History of the World” in two volumes, each about two and a half inches thick. They dated from the 1890s (the summit of human progress might have been assumed to be Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee) and by being unashamedly British in outlook would probably arouse the indignation of any politically-correct educationalist today. But I loved them! I spent my school summer-holidays of 1958 reading them cover-to-cover and starting all over again when I got to the end. Several episodes still linger in the memory for the vividness of the writing, notably the Roman tactic of boarding in the naval battles of the First Punic War, the Diet of Worms and the Dutch Revolt (the “Sea Beggars” received especially sympathetic treatment). Knowing that the books dated from the 1890s I was however surprised by the chapter entitled “The First World War.”

The description was indeed an accurate one, for the Seven Years War of 1756 – 1763, was the first to be fought on a global scale. It was longer indeed that seven years, for hostilities had opened between Britain and Britain in North America in 1754, triggered by an incident in Pennsylvania involving a 22-year old officer called George Washington. Two years later the conflict took on an even wider European dimension. The British-led alliance included Prussia, Portugal and the smaller German states, including Hanover, and was opposed by a French alliance with the Austrian Empire, Spain, Sweden and Saxony. Russia was initially allied with Austria but changed sides halfway through. Vast in geographical scope, it was a war in which, in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s phrase, European enmities ensured that “black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America.”  

The consequences of this war are still with us today – not least as regards the status of Canada – and it confirmed Britain as a world power. A constant reminder of this today is "Heart of Oak, the official march of Britain’s Royal Navy, of the Royal Canadian Navy and of the Royal New Zealand Navy. "Heart of Oak" started however as the most successful popular song of its time, not only because of its memorable tune but for the robust and confident humour of the lyrics. The title refers to the strongest wood at the centre of the oak, from which Britain’s sailing navy was constructed. The words were written by the greatest actor of his time, David Garrick, and the music was composed by a Dr. William Boyce. Its first public performance was on New Year’s Day 1760, in the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane. It was sung by Samuel Thomas Champnes, one of Handel's soloists, and was part of a pantomime written by Garrick entitled "Harlequin's Invasion". 
The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 21 November 1759: the Day After by Richard Wright. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 21 November 1759: the Day After by Richard Wright. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
Giving “Johnny Foreigner” a bloody nose has always been popular in Britain – especially if he happens to be French – and “Heart of Oak” commemorated a quick sequence of unprecedented triumphs which satisfied this liking to the limit. The opening stanza is an uncompromising statement of pride:
Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

And the chorus kicks in:

Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again!

The song was a sensational popular success and it must have been splendid fun to join a whole audience belting it out in a packed theatre. But what did the “Wonderful Year” mentioned refer to? The clue is in the date of the song’s premiere, January 1st 1760, for it looks back on the events of the preceding months and 1759 had been the “Year of Victories”.  The sequence of these victories by land and by sea ran as follows:

1st August 1759: At Minden, in Central Germany, an Anglo-German army smashes a French army, leading the French Chief Minister, the Duc de Choiseul, to say afterwards "I blush when I speak of our army. I simply cannot get it into my head, much less into my heart…

18th and 19th August:  In the Battle of Lagos, off the Portuguese coast, the Royal Navy decisively defeats a French fleet attempting to pass from the Mediterranean to the French Atlantic coast to join naval units gathering there to support an invasion force intended for Britain.

13th September 1759: British attempts to capture Quebec, the centre of French power in North America, culminate in a 15-minute battle on “The Plains of Abraham” outside the city following a stealthy amphibious landing and a surprise approach via an “impossible” route. The French evacuate the city and never regained the initiative. French Canada is effectively lost forever.

20th November 1759:  In the Battle of Quiberon Bay the French naval forces gathered to cover the intended invasion of Britain were smashed by a Royal Navy fleet commanded by Sir Edward Hawke. The locale was on the French Atlantic coast, near St.Nazaire, where rocks and shoals were as great a hazard as the enemy. Hawke nevertheless took his force close inshore in appalling weather and inflicted a crushing defeat that ended all French hopes of invasion.

The last verse of “Heart of Oak” reflects not just pride in these victories but confidence in the future:

We still make them feel and we still make them flee,
And drub them ashore as we drub them at sea,
Then cheer up me lads with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers and sailors, our statesmen and king!

The confidence was not misplaced. Another triumph followed three weeks after the premiere:

22nd January 1760: At Wandiwash (today known as Vandavasi, in Tamil Nadu) in the main French army in India was comprehensively beaten by a British force. French ambitions in India were dealt a blow from which they never recovered and the battle confirmed Britain as the new power on the sub-continent.

Nor was this the end of major British victories. On 14th August 1762 Havana in Cuba was captured from the Spanish, who also lost Manilla in the Philippines on 10th October 1762.

The war was ended by the Treaties of Paris and of Hubertusburg in early 1763.  Both Britain and France returned much of the territory they had captured. (A great “What If?” of history is what the consequences would have been of Britain retaining Havana and Manilla). There was a major exception however: France was so keen to regain the sugar islands of the Caribbean which it has lost to Britain during the war that it was willing to cede all of its territory in mainland North America in return for getting them back. These tiny sugar-producing islands were regarded of immeasurably greater economic value than Canada, described memorably by Voltaire as "Quelques arpents de neige - Some acres of snow". The decision was as short-sighted as the later Russian sale of Alaska.

Today, at any major national occasion at which the Royal Navy is represented, “Heart of Oak” still inspires pride. And one of the middle verses sums up a sentiment not dead even today:

We ne'er see our foes but we wish them to stay,
They never see us but they wish us away;
If they run, why we follow, and run them ashore,
For if they won't fight us, what can we do more?

Thank you, David Garrick and William Boyce!

About the Author

Antoine Vanner has lived long-term in eight countries and has travelled extensively in every continent except Antarctica. He has particularly relished his exposure to developing countries where there are few certainties as regards security or social stability. This gave him a particular interest in situations of moral ambiguity, as is reflected in his adventure novels set in the Late-Victorian Era.

Visit him at

Written content of this post copyright © Antoine Vanner, 2015.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Musical Monday: François-Hippolyte Barthélémon

François-Hippolyte Barthélémon (Bordeaux, France, 27th July 1741 – Christ Church, Sussex, England, 20th July 1808) 

To ease you into the week, here is a little something by Barthélémon; you can read of his remarkable life by clicking here.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Salon Digest

I am off for a theatrical jaunt to London this weekend, but I hope you will find something in the selection below to entertain!

Give a Man a Good Ship and He Can Do Extraordinary Things
The seafaring Katherine Bone takes us aboard HMS Victory.

Alessandro Besozzi, Oboist
The beautiful music of an Italian master...

Bounce: The Devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope
Mimi Matthews shares a tale of one man and his dog.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Alessandro Besozzi, Oboist

Alessandro Besozzi (Parma, Italy, 22nd July 1702 – Turin, Italy, 26th July 1793) 

Composer and oboist Alessandro Besozzi, was born on this day in Parma. A celebrated man of music, he was a particular favourite at Versailles and I hope this wonderful example of his music will soothe your Wednesday!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Give a Man a Good Ship and He Can Do Extraordinary Things

I'm honoured to welcome Katherine Bone, a friend of the Salon for many a long month, with a post on the iconic ship, HMS Victory!
To win one of two autographed copies of The Rogue's Prize, The Nelson's Tea Series Book #2, visit:

Piracy, romance, and adventure is a FABulous combination, don’t you think, Madame Gilflurt? After all, pirates were mercenaries, expert sailors sportin’ swagger. Whether they were born to the life and knew little else or were simply looking for adventure and the promise of gold, they upheld the code and put their brawny bodies and briny hides to good use. Only one thing contributed more to a pirate’s prosperity than surviving untold hardship a ship with extraordinary speed acting as a mighty sword unsheathed. Add a black flag for terrifying effect and readers have swashbuckling magic.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, seafaring men with hearts of gold swore to uphold duty, honor, and country. In my Nelson’s Tea Series, Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson has been charged with protecting England’s shores. During his recuperation from another bout of malaria, he enlists the aid of Lord Simon Danbury, a former naval officer who once served with him aboard the Agamemnon. Together, they scour the country for scoundrels of every persuasion who’ve charted England’s coasts, lords, captains, and pirates, first sons above suspicion, willing to serve King George in clandestine operations from 1801-1806. A diligent tea drinker, Nelson nicknames his mercenary group ‘Nelson’s Tea’.    
When I was looking for a setting and plot for my characters, I quickly got swept away by the passionate intrigue and hot-blooded accounts of heroism Horatio Nelson experienced. He wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination, but his sense of duty was infallible. From the moment he first stepped onto a pristine battle ready ship at twelve years old, he won a place in history. A born leader, he turned life-altering moments into tests of humanity. No one, and nothing, rivaled Nelson’s tactical genius.

Consider this: Nelson launched his career without sonar and radio. His uncanny nautical skills propelled him from motherless seasick midshipman to malaria-plagued, one-armed, partially blind Admiral aboard the HMS Victory and a fate unifying generations of Britains. To this day, toasts are given in his honor to celebrate the victory at Trafalgar and the Royal Navy’s rise to power. 
Give a man a good ship and he can do extraordinary things.
That ship is the 7th Victory and it survives as a lasting legacy of what courage and one man’s determination can do. When the Senior Surveyor of the Navy, Sir Thomas Slade, was given his 1st and last opportunity to design a First Rate Ship, he laid the HMS Victory’s keel at Old Single Dock in Chatham Royal Dockyard on July 23, 1759, without knowing his ship would sail into legend. Displacing 2,000 tons, the Victory was the largest warship ever built for the English fleet. Measuring 227 ft 6 inches long (with 186 ft long decks), and a 52 ft beam, she drew 25 ft of water ‘at mean load’. 
She inspired song. Hearts of Oak is a seafaring tune written during the Victory’s construction. Her hull consists of 6,000 oak trees (roughly 100 acres of woodland or 300,000 cubic feet, enough to build 400 single family dwellings). Heavy clay found in the Weald forests of Kent and Sussex provided robust British Oak, 90% of the Victory’s timber. Acorns take 100 years to grow tall and strong enough for ship building. Amazingly, some of the stockpiled timber at Chatham dated back to 1746, which means her timbers can be traced to oak planted during Oliver Cromwell’s time. Other trees used in various sections of the Victory’s five decks were pine, fir, spruce, and beech. 

HMS Victory is so colossal it took 6 years and 2 months at Chatham, under a temporary roof at £63,176 to build her. She requires approximately 22,880 fathoms of hemp rope (26 miles) in 19 inch down to ¾ inch circumferences and carries 37 sails, including 22 spares. It would take 83 days for 22 men to create one suit of sails by hand at an estimated 64,000 yards of seaming, each man completing 3,200 yards of work. No wonder she carried an average crew of about 850 during war and 650 during peace, depending on the availability of men at her service.
She was a lucky charm. Admirals appreciated her combined firepower, speed, size, maneuverability, and her capacity to shrug aside heavy seas, not to mention her cargo space. Provisions included: 300 tons of Water, 50 tons of Fuel (Coal and Wood), 20 tons of Timber, 30 tons of Salt Meat, 45 tons of Biscuits, 10 tons of Flour, 15 tons of Pease, 2 tons of Butter, 50 tons of Beer, 35 tons of Powder, and 120 tons of Shot stored in wooden barrels, 4 ½ ft long and 3 ft wide. Added to this weight was 257 tons of pig-iron ballast. Positioned over that, 200 tons of shingle for bedding down the lowest tier of water casks.
HMS Victory’s historical timeline:
  • On May 7, 1765, the Victory floated out of dry dock before several lords of the Admiralty and government ministers, including William Pitt, the Edler. 
  • “Yesterday was launched at Chatham His Majesty’s Ship the Victory, esteemed the largest and finest ship ever built.” A London Newspaper, The Public Advertiser, May 8, 1765
  • Several immediate setbacks forced her to be laid up in reserve Ordinary for 13 years.
  • In December 1776, she was brought back into service and docked for repairs, becoming, for the first time, a fully-fledged warship. 
  • When her updated provisions were finalized in 1778, the Victory sailed into history displacing 3,500 tons with all 36 sails set (almost 4 acres of canvas). Her baptism under fire occurred at the battle of Ushant in 1778 with another confrontation to follow there in 1781.
  • She was the flagship of Admiral Samuel Hood off the coast of Toulon in 1793.
  • Off the coast of Corsica in 1794, Captain Horatio Nelson was treated by the Victory’s surgeon after losing sight in his right eye. 
  • HMS Victory saw action against France and Spain in the early hours of February 14, 1797 off Cape St. Vincent under Admiral Sir John Jervis. 
  • After the battle of Cape St. Vincent, the Victory was paid off at Chatham on November 26, 1797. As her crew scattered to the four winds, she appeared destined for hospital duty or as a prisoner of war ship. 
  • In December 1799 repairs were ordered and when she was recommissioned in 1803, she was paired again with the man who would make her famous Admiral Horatio Nelson.
  • Nelson celebrated his 47th birthday on board the Victory on September 29, 1805 at a dinner with 15 senior officers. At the gathering, Nelson explained his battle plans for Trafalgar utilizing the Nelson Touch, an all-out aggressive assault to cut through the enemy line in more than one place to divide and conquer.

  • The day to enact his strategy came on October 21, 1805 with a storm threatening off the coast of Trafalgar. 
    • 9 a.m. The Victory beat to quarters
    • 11:40 a.m. Nelson sends the signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty”. “But you must be quick, for I have one more signal to make which is for close action.” Being, “Engage the enemy more closely.”
    • As the battle progresses the Victory devastates ships around her from every angle. Her upper deck is raked for mass boarding as Nelson and Hardy paced the quarterdeck, the image of poise.
    • 1:15 p.m. Nelson is hit by a sniper’s bullet. “They have done for me at last, Hardy… My backbone is shot through.” Marines and sailors help Nelson below, masking his face to keep anyone from losing morale.
    • News of the enemy’s surrender reaches Nelson He cries, “Oh, Victory! Victory! How you distract my poor brain.” 
    • 4:00 p.m. Cold, struggling for breath, Nelson says, “Thank God, I have done my duty.”
    • 4:30 p.m. Almost at the exact time gunfire ceases, Nelson breathes his last breath. According to the surgeon, “a victory been reported to the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Nelson, he then died of his wound.”
Nelson’s death plunged England into mourning. The method of transferring his body on the long journey home pickling him in brandy shows how steadfast his men were in honoring their fallen admiral. As a reward for her service, Victory resides at No. 2 Dock in Portsmouth as a living monument to the bravery and courage shown at Trafalgar and by countless sailors who served on her decks until March 20, 1922. 

Give a man a good ship and he can do extraordinary things.
Without HMS Victory, Nelson may not have carved out a lasting niche in history or launched his tactical genius. Without Sir Thomas Slade, the Admiralty Board, Admiral Nelson, and the stanch conservation of the British people, the Victory would not be what she is today a 256 year old living legend.
It’s my fervent hope that I do Admiral Horatio Nelson justice in my Nelson’s Tea Series. I have no doubt Nelson and HMS Victory will continue to fascinate countless people for years to come. 
Give a historical author passionate intrigue and hot-blooded accounts of heroism and he/she can do extraordinary things.


MY LADY ROGUE, A Nelson's Tea Novella #2 by Katherine Bone

Everything Simon and Gillian have done has led to this moment… Will it be too late?
Baroness Gillian Chauncey thought she’d seen everything during her years of devotion to England. But as war escalates and political bonds are severed, a devastating betrayal forces Gillian to make a life or death decision to save the man she loves.

Lord Simon Danbury’s loyalty to the crown has never been questioned — until now. As death’s darkening veil cascades over London, a hostile mole inside Nelson’s Tea tries to assassinate him. Surrounded by the greatest spies in England, only one thing stands to defeat him — losing the one woman who has made life worth living. 

About the Author
Bestselling Historical Romance Author Katherine Bone has been passionate about history since she had the opportunity to travel to various Army bases, castles, battlegrounds, and cathedrals as an Army brat turned Officer's Wife. Now she lives in the south where she writes about Rogues, Rebels and Rakes, aka Pirates, Lords, Captains, Duty, Honor, and Country and the happily ever afters every alpha male and damsel deserve.

Monday, 20 July 2015

A Salon Digest

As summer flies past, settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy the the bountiful delights of the week just passed!

Musical Monday: Beethoven by Request
Some wonderful music to lull you into the week...

The Tropes of Regency Romance
Jeanna Ellsworth shares a feast of romantic fiction tropes!

Jane Austen at School: "I Could Have Died of Laughter"
Lisa Pliscou lifts the lid on Jane's school days...

The Great Plague of Marseilles
Geri Walton takes us back to a terrible time in French history...

A Lighter Side Of The Peninsular Campaign
A different angle on a famed campaign from Joana Starnes...

Friday, 17 July 2015

A Lighter Side Of The Peninsular Campaign

It's my pleasure to welcome the wonderful Joana Starnes to the salon today, with a look at the lighter side of the Peninsular campaign.

William Holmes Sullivan: “Capture of the Eagle
William Holmes Sullivan: Capture of the Eagle
In this year of the Waterloo bicentenary, there are so many illuminating posts on various historical sites, detailing the events and describing the countless other military engagements that have led to the ultimate Allied victory against Napoleonic France.

I have taken the liberty to address a lighter side of the gruesome conflict that had gripped Europe for such a length of time. In doing so, I am perhaps reinforcing the stereotype. It is often said of Regency aficionados that they view the era through rose-tinted glasses. That they choose to focus on the glamour, the balls, the manners, the high-society people in elegant apparel – whilst ignoring the dark realities of the time, such as the plight of the dispossessed, the lengthy wars that have crippled the country or the plain fact that even the muslin-clad ladies whose carefree lifestyle they admire were not immune to the tragedies of death in childbirth or the ravaging effects of tuberculosis and all manner of other diseases that threatened to carry them off, before the happy advent of antibiotics.

All this is true. The same is said in some circles of Jane Austen: that she had insulated her work from the trials and tribulations of the outer world, making it all about the frivolous pursuits of courtship and marriage. Yet for my part I agree with those who posit that it was done on purpose. Yes, there were grim realities that had affected her deeply. She was touched by the Terreur, through her cousin Eliza de Feuillide, who lost her husband to the guillotine. She had brothers in a navy at war and would spend a large proportion of her life wondering if she would ever see them again. We all need our forms of escapism from unforgiving reality. So how can we disagree with her when she writes, in the closing chapter of Mansfield Park Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can […]’?

Which is why today I have chosen to share some delightful passages I have found in Sir Arthur Bryant’s ‘Years of Victory’, when I was researching the Peninsular Campaign in the hope of giving some grounding and colour to my novels. I am not altogether sure how many of my readers are actually looking for historical detail, but I must admit I enjoy the research immensely. Somehow, it anchors the narrative into reality – and when by some fortunate circumstance the events I imagine happen to fit chronologically with real occurrences, it feels like the cake has just acquired an extra layer of delicious icing.

To return to Sir Arthur Bryant, his account of events preceding and following the Year of Waterloo makes for a gripping read. There are stark accounts of battles and heavy losses. There are descriptions of atrocities, shockingly on the par with far more recent conflicts. However, there are also heart-warming stories, such as the one of the night of March 19th, 1810, when a greatly superior force of Voltigeurs attempted to surprise a detachment of the 95th Rifles at the bridge of Barba del Puerco. A French general had learned from an informer that the English officers were in the habit of imbibing liberally at nightfall, so the French sought to creep upon them. Yet the outcome was a far cry from what they had expected. The sentry’s alarm had roused the impeccably trained men in a matter of minutes and, before they knew it, the entire regiment was charging down the hill towards them in flapping shirts, but with cartridge boxes at the ready, led by Colonel Beckwith in his dressing-gown, night-cap and slippers.

To me, this paints a wonderful picture. There is the humorous element of course – how can there not be, when we are talking of the commander of the regiment leading his men in nightcap and slippers? – but it is also a story of valour, of rising to the occasion in ways that confounded their opponents.

I was also entertained by the following account, irreverent as it might be. At Villa Viçosa, the officers of the 23rd Light Dragoons – survivors of the charge at Talavera – dressed up one of their confederates as an English bishop in red velvet breeches, white gaiters trimmed with lace, an old dressing-gown and clerical band and collar and, arming him with a long cane stuck into a large ripe lemon, processed behind him bearing their helmets in their hands, while the devout locals cheered in a frenzy.

There were more stories on the par with this, some garnered from Captain Gronow’s ‘Reminiscences and Recollections of Camp, Court and Society 1810 – 1860’.

Gronow told of wild Captain Dan MacKinnon, who had the effrontery to impersonate His Royal Highness the Duke of York with great pomp and circumstance at a grand banquet given in his honour by the mayor of St Andero – until, wearying of the evening’s tedious gravity, he suddenly plunged head-first into a bowl of punch, to the surprise and extreme indignation of his solemn hosts.

He also told of the same narrowly missing a court-martial when he contrived to disguise himself as a nun in Vizeu Convent near Lisbon, on the day when their Commander-in-chief was to visit the sacred place, and regaled Lord Wellington with the shocking spectacle of a nun turning on her head and throwing her heels in the air to reveal not only a wealth of petticoats, but also the boots and breeches of a British officer.

I have neither friends nor family in the armed forces and thus no idea of the ways in which modern-day soldiers seek to blow off steam. Yet, wearing the same rose-tinted glasses, I find that the above-mentioned anecdotes are a reflection of simpler times, when people would be able to take delight in much simpler pleasures; when grown men and women would amuse themselves at Christmas with tricks and games that modern-day children would scoff at. I cannot say I would be prepared to live in those times – I value the access to state-of-the-art healthcare too greatly. Nevertheless, exploring it from the relative tranquillity and unquestionable comfort of the twenty-first century is very rewarding – as is to occasionally ‘party like it’s 1799’.

* * * *

Note: All Peninsular War references are from Sir Arthur Bryant, ‘Years of Victory 1802 – 1812’, Collins, London (1945) pp. 362-6 and 377-95.

Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. She is the author of:

From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley, a Pride and Prejudice Sequel
The Subsequent Proposal ~ A Tale of Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion
The Second Chance ~ A Pride and Prejudice – Sense and Sensibility Variation
The Falmouth Connection, a Pride and Prejudice Variation

She is currently working on ‘The Unthinkable Triangle, a Pride and Prejudice Variation due to be released in September 2015.

You can find Joana Starnes on Facebook at or on

 Written content of this post copyright © Joana Starnes, 2015.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Great Plague of Marseille in 1720

It's my pleasure to welcome the wonderful Geri Walton to the salon today. A fellow member of the Pen and Swords Books family, Geri is passionate about the long 18th century and is here to share a grim tale of plague...


On May 5, 1720, a trade ship, named the Grand Saint Antoine and skippered by a Captain Jean-Baptiste Chataud, sailed into Marseille having just arrived from an area in the eastern Mediterranean known as Levant. When it docked, the Grand Saint Antoine had a black cloud hanging over it. Its previous attempt to dock at Livorno had been refused because of plague-like symptoms and because of the death of a Turkish passenger who had been thrown overboard. When the ship finally docked at Marseille, several crew members were ill, including the ship's surgeon. So, a perfunctory quarantine was instituted by port authorities and the ship placed in the lazaret (a section designated for quarantine). But the quarantine did not hold because some crew members bribed their way off and gained their liberty.

Marseille (sometimes spelled Marseilles by the English) was situated at the end of a gulf containing one of the largest and best harbors in the Mediterranean. At the time it had a monopoly on French trade, partly due to its commerce with the Lavant area. Marseille was attempting to expand its monopoly into the Middle East and with emerging markets in the New World, so the idea of the plague made some in Marseille nervous that fear would hamper trade expansion. Further, as physicians disagreed amongst themselves as to whether or not the plague was present on the ship and because the ship carried vitally needed silk and cotton for a great fair planned in July at Beaucaire, influential Marseille merchants pressured port authorities to lift the quarantine.

The decision to lift the quarantine, compounded by the presence of infected crew members already loose in the city, proved disastrous and resulted in the last large epidemic of Yersinia pestis, which is the bacterium responsible for pneumonic, septicemic, and bubonic plagues. Within a couple of days, infirmaries and hospitals were overrun with plague victims. As the "undoubted marks of bubos [appeared]," the public began to panic. Symptoms were publicized and claims were made that the "distemper begins with a violent Head-ache, afterwards the Patients are seiz'd with a Fit of Trembling and die in 6 Hours Time." Even with the knowledge of what could be expected, no one could escape the city because troops surrounded it. Later, hoping to halt the plague, Marseille city officials built a mur de la Peste (a plague wall). But no matter what actions city officials took, the death toll continued to climb and the deep-ditch mass graves to hold the dead could not be dug fast enough.

As the plague raged on, deaths became constant, and, reportedly, nearly 1,000 people died in a single day. This meant care by Marseille physicians was more than impractical, it was impossible. Some victims became so delirious from the disease, they wandered the streets, before falling down exhausted. Then, "unable to lift themselves from the ground, they expired on the spot, remaining fixed in strange and distorted attitude in which their agonies had left them." To prevent such a horrible death, some people who showed signs of the plague became intent on killing themselves, and, in order to avoid suffering, they jumped out of windows or drowned themselves in the sea.

Several other things happened as victims of the plague began to increase. Homes, churches, and warehouses began to be filled with the dead. Corpses were placed everywhere, in attics, basements, and storerooms, and it was there they decayed and rotted until someone could remove them. As physicians could do little to help sufferers and the living were often petrified of catching the disease, the unafflicted began to carry their afflicted relatives outdoors to die. They usually placed them under shady trees to expire and that is where the person's corpse remained until it was removed. But soon there were not enough graves to bury the dead, and alternative measure had to be taken.

With houses, businesses, and churches filled with dead bodies and with no indoor areas left to put corpses, Marseille residents began putting their dead relatives outside on sidewalks or streets. This resulted in hundreds of corpse piles and thousands of rotting and pestilence-ridden corpses scattered throughout the city. Worse still were groups of prowling dogs that began to mutilate the corpses. To control this unpleasant menace and because it was thought dogs could "imbibe the contagion [and transmit it to humans]...a pitiless warfare was commenced against them." This resulted in thousands of dead dogs being thrown into the port and fishermen being ordered to drag them out to the open sea because of the stench.

To get rid of the corpses, Marseille authorities tried several things. They hired country people "at high wages" to remove the corpses, but many of these corpse removers became ill themselves and perished. A detachment of hardened convicts was then hired and promised their freedom if they removed the corpses. These criminals willingly applied themselves, but they also plundered families and were so unfeeling and so insolent in their duties, Marseille residents complained loudly to authorities. Next, soldiers were drafted and forced to haul away putrefied bodies, often by hoisting them over their shoulders.

It was a horrible situation and many people were petrified to go outdoors. The stench from rotting corpses and dead dogs was carried on the wind and for adventurers daring enough to brave the outdoors, or for country visitors curious about what was happening in the city, not only did they have to smell the flesh of the rotting dead but they also had to traverse over dead bodies and past piles of rotting corpses. At the height of the plague, some of these outdoor adventurers, known as batons de St. Roch, were so fearful of being touched they used batons (poles) eight to ten feet long to maintain a safe distance from everyone, including any dogs lucky enough to have survived.

For a time nothing stopped the plague: no amount of city intervention—walls, troops, or burials—nor regal or priestly intervention slowed it, and it terrified Europe. As the Marseille plague raged on, it touched everyone living in Marseille and beyond. One eighteenth century newspaper reported in October 1720 (the height of the plague) that "Marseilles is entirely ruin'd, above 80000 Persons have died there, and abundance die daily still, so mortal and so stubborn a Plague was never seen." However, the newspaper appears to have exaggerated the death toll. Although the plague devastated the city, today's estimates are that about 50,000 Marseille inhabitants died, which was more than 50% of it 90,000 inhabitants. Moreover, another 50,000 people died as the plague moved northward through France.

When at last Marseille was declared free of contagion (which took about two years), one person wrote, "We owe our deliverance, the cessation of this terrible scourge, to the mercy of the Lord, who was pleased to relent in his anger at the prayers of our the zeal of the magistrates and citizens who assisted his efforts...and, above all, to the liberality of the illustrious prince who governs us...Happy will it be the remembrance of our past misfortunes serve us as a warning for the future, and inspire us with wisdom to use all human means to guard against the renewal of a catastrophe so deplorable...and to entertain a just fear of exciting once more the anger of the Lord against us, and drawing down on our heads a judgment yet more dreadful."


Devaux, Christian A., Small Oversights that Led to the Great Plague of Marseille (1720–1723), on Science Direct
From Miller's Letter, September 6, in Stamford Mercury, 8 Sept 1720
Kiple, Kenneth F., ed., Plague, Pox & Pestilence, 1997
Paris, October 26, in Stamford Mercury, 27 Oct 1720

About the Author

Geri Walton has long been fascinated by history and the people that create it. Their stories and the reasons why they did what they did encouraged her to receive a degree in History and to create a blog focusing on her favorite time period, the 1700 and 1800s. Her first book, scheduled for publication in 2016,  focuses on Princess de Lamballe, friend and confidante to Marie Antoinette.

 Written content of this post copyright © Geri Walton, 2015.